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Pastor Shirley Caesar, The Queen of Gospel, says Raleigh concert will be 'off the chain'

Leoneda Inge

You may recognize some of the big names in gospel music – Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and Marvin Sapp. But hands down, the Queen of Gospel music is Pastor Shirley Caesar.

Caesar, a native of Durham, North Carolina, is known for keeping traditional, African American gospel music alive. She spent the early part of her career singing with The Caravans. As a solo artist, Caesar has won 12 Grammy Awards, 18 Dove Awards, and 14 Stellar Awards, presented by the Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy.

“I started singing when I was three or four and I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Caesar, who also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has sung for U.S. presidents going back to Jimmy Carter. In 2015, she sang for Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House.

“Over the years we have had the quintessential sounds of America fill this room, from Jazz to Motown to Blues to Country,” said Barack Obama at the time. “So it is fitting that tonight, we honor the music that influenced all those genres. Gospel.”

Today, the 83-year-old sounds as bodacious and vibrant as she did on some of her most well-known songs, like her 1975 version of “No Charge.” “Hold My Mule” from her “Live in Chicago” album, remained number one on Billboard’s gospel chart for 52 weeks.

Caesar will likely sing her popular Mother’s Day song, “No Charge,” at Thursday's concert at The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh. It is one of the biggest shows for Caesar and the Caesar Singers since the start of the pandemic. A choir from Shaw University, her alma mater, is also expected to perform.

“It’s going to be off the chain, girl!” said Caesar, as she listed the songs she will perform. “I am going to sing 'I Remember Mama' and 'Take Your Knee Off My Neck.’ We are just going to let go and let God have the right-a-way.”

Caesar said “Take Your Knee Off My Neck” is in remembrance of George Floyd, the Black man was killed in 2020 by a white police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

“This boy lost his life. Well, I’m going to sing that,” Caesar said.

Caesar, is also known as, Shirley Caesar Williams. Her late husband, Bishop Harold Ivory Williams, died in 2014. The couple co-pastored Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh for more than 30 years. Caesar says her dream is to continue building on the 53.5 acres of property to include affordable housing, a performing arts center, and even a grocery store.

“A Calvary City,” said Caesar. “That’s my dream.”

Early in the pandemic, Caesar recorded her sermons and aired them on YouTube. She also recorded a concert for NPR’s Tiny Desk “Black History Month” series. Caesar is celebrated for the way she intertwines her songs and preaching called “sermonettes.”

“You may have had some heartaches and some pain, but you made it,” said Caesar. “It’s all about on the other side of the comma. I went through, comma, but made it. Hello!”

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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